bad dogs coverRating: 4.75 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Roman spent his early years in a loving home with grandparents who cared for him. All that changed when Roman was twelve; his grandfather died, his grandmother needed to go into elder care, and Roman’s older brother took custody of him. Not only was Roman ripped away from the only life he knew, but his brother Travis is violent, abusive, and has crushed any sense of confidence or self worth Roman once had. His brother is a dirty cop who makes Roman act as his drug mule, beats Roman and yells at him for every offense, real or perceived, and essentially uses him as his slave. Roman may be an adult now, and an enormous and incredibly strong one at that, but he has no belief he deserves or can even hope for anything more than the horrific life he has with Travis. Now, the brothers have moved from California to Colorado, as Travis has gotten a new job on the police force there. For Roman, the move is meaningless, as his life feels just as hopeless as it did before, just in a different place.

Scout was born on the floor of the trailer in which he now lives. After his entire family abandoned him or OD’d, Scout has been left to make his own way. Fortunately, Scout has two best friends, Dallas and Beck, who are family to him. However, it’s still a rough life of poverty, gangs, and too few people who care about them. Scout is determined to make it out of the trailer park with Dallas and Beck, but he needs money. His goal is to film BDSM videos to bring in some cash, but he’s a novice and untried Dom without a sub. When Scout sees Roman one day in the midst of a fit of anger and violence, almost feral in his fury and loss of control, Scout believes Roman could be the one. There is a spark of submission there, a sense of someone who wants to fight, but then wants to give in and be cared for. This giant, mountain of a man full of rage and power would be so compelling kneeling at Scout’s feet.

When the men meet, at first Roman is too overwhelmed to even know how to respond to Scout’s proposal. Roman has no friends and he can’t even conceive of why Scout would want to spend time with him. Roman’s whole life revolves around trying to obey his brother and avoid Travis’ fury. The idea of a friendship, let alone exploring kink on camera, is so foreign he barely knows how to approach it. But deep down, there is a part of Roman that is sparked by this idea. Despite his terror knowing he is risking Travis’ ire if he learns Roman is even spending time with Scout, he agrees to try. The idea of something for himself, the idea of money of his own so he can buy food rather than being half starved by Travis, is so compelling. But the idea of submitting is what really gives Roman the push to take this chance.

Slowly, the men begin to explore their new Dom/sub dynamic, and while it starts off just in front of the camera, it soon develops into more. With Scout’s support, and Beck and Dallas’ friendship, things slowly begin to change for Roman. He is more confident, more comfortable in himself, and more free. He still lives in fear of his brother, and he is still completely unconvinced of his own worth, but he is starting to bloom. Roman and Scout are falling for each other, and Scout’s vision of a future for all of them is closer to becoming a reality. But Travis still expects obedience, and finding a way to break free of his control is going to take more strength than Roman even knows he has.

Bad Dogs is the first book in Riley Nash’s new Dirty Strays series and I just loved everything about it. It is not an easy story to read; both Scout and Roman live incredibly difficult lives, both are stuck in cycles of poverty and limited options. But it all comes together so nicely, and the story is so rewarding overall that I found it so compelling. I think the biggest strength of this book is the way Nash so beautifully draws these characters. They just totally came to life for me and I couldn’t help but want the best for them. Scout comes across as all sass and confidence, with a healthy dose of arrogance. But as the story progresses, we see that there is more underneath that facade. Scout is a caretaker and he is determined to see a better life for his friends. And it is an uphill battle for sure. None of these guys have easy lives. They are all dirt poor and struggling to survive. So much of Scout is about looking after his people, and that comes to extend to Roman as well. We can feel Scout’s pain when he sees Roman’s fear, when he watches Roman going back to that abusive home, knowing Roman isn’t emotionally ready to make a break from that life. There is this line Scout has to walk with Roman — help him move forward, but not too fast that he collapses. For all that he shoplifts and lives on Oreos and seems to be mostly a mess, Scout is sort of the mother hen of the group and I loved that juxtaposition.

Roman is going to break your heart and I just wanted to hug this poor man who has suffered so much. Nash is so good at dropping these little moments into the story where we learn about Roman’s life with his grandparents — cutting down their own Christmas trees, his grandmother teaching him to cook, them supporting him through therapy, the gentle way his grandmother would comfort him at night. The quilt his grandmother made Roman that is his prized possession (you should have heard me internally screaming that nothing better happen to that quilt!). And then we see this harsh reality of his current life and it is all the more heartbreaking. Roman may be an adult, and he may outweigh Travis enough to physically stop him, but he is in no way emotionally able to even consider breaking free. It is something common in abusive victims and Nash does a good job of putting us in Roman’s head in a way that it is clear why he can’t just leave. Roman sees himself as nothing, as worth nothing. He sees no future where he is happy, where anyone would want him, where he could truly have a different life. It is only when he has others in his life to care about that he gets that confidence to try for a real change. Here Roman thinks about how much he wants to go and be with Scout:

My stomach aches. I want him so bad I can’t even breathe. All I have to do is stand up and walk out the front door, down the street. Trav barely weighs half as much as me; he’d have no chance of holding me back. But I just can’t. He’s stripped away every part of me until all that’s left is hopelessness and the unshakeable knowledge that there’s nothing out there for someone as fucked up as me.

Roman is a man full of rage, and we see this almost feral quality about him. We are in his head when all he wants to do is break and smash and destroy. But as much as he wants to fight, Roman also wants to be cared for, wants someone to guide him and stop him from just flying apart. When Scout looks at Roman, he sees that hint of submission. And when Roman hears Scout’s offer, there is a part of him that longs for what Scout is offering, despite his fear of Travis’ repercussions.

I loved that Scout is a novice Dom and the way that affects their dynamic. Scout may have watched a million videos, and read books on making a DIY flogger, and feel in his heart that this is what he is meant to be, but he still makes mistakes, he still misreads things sometimes. It gives the story a totally different dynamic than if Scout was a polished Dom. These guys are figuring it out together, they are finding what works for them, and I really loved that exploration.

One element I particularly enjoyed is Roman sort of taking ownership of a dog he names Tubbs. Tubbs belongs to the man with whom Roman and Travis are living, and he is this huge, hulking dog that is near starved and furious. Roman is immediately drawn to the dog and begins taking care of him. It is clear how much Roman loves this dog, wants to make him a better life, wants to protect him and care for him. The parallels are obvious between Tubbs and Roman, these two wild things that only need some love and care to come back to themselves. I just loved the way we see this dynamic develop between Roman and the dog alongside Roman’s own growth over the story.

I could point out a million little things here that I loved, but I was just totally swept up by this story. I fell in love with Roman and Scout and couldn’t help but root for them both. We get a lovely happy ending here, but one that also feels realistic given their lives. I also really enjoyed getting to know Dallas and Beck and am very excited to see that they have stories coming up. So this one was a big hit for me and I am very excited for more. Consider this highly recommended.

Maybe it was always crazy for trailer park boys to think they could leave that world, to dare and hope for things they don’t deserve—peace and clean air and family. We were all born unlucky, but I still think the gods are powerless if you find something worth fighting them for.

P.S. For those who have Nash’s Show Me Wonders, Scout is Jackson’s younger brother (though otherwise the books appear to have no crossover)

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